You Are What You Eat.

What to Eat & Avoid for Improved Mental Health.

Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”


While this quote shouldn’t make you stop taking needed medications, it should make you wonder if there is truth to the old adage “You are what you eat.” Can my mind, body and spirit be impacted by daily food choices? Of course they can!

Let’s talk biology for a minute. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate appetite, mood and sleep. Serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract. The production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters is influenced by the good food and bacteria in your digestive tract. Good bacteria can block toxins, improve how you absorb nutrients and improve communication with your brain and more.

But we don’t seem to be getting much good bacteria. According to the Harvard Medical School Health Blog, studies comparing diets indicate Western diets are linked to higher rates of depression than Mediterranean diets.

So what are we eating that can put us in such a funk? The answer is bad fuel.

Think of your body as a machine. It is always running… breathing, heartbeat, senses. This running requires fuel. How we fuel is important. So here are some tips to help you improve your physical and mental health by moving from low-grade fuel to high-octane.

What to Eat

  • Whole Grain: the brain needs glucose which comes from carbohydrates. Complex carbs are best like whole wheat, oats, brown rice, beans and soy.
  • Leafy Greens: dive into your spinach, kale, broccoli, romaine and mustard greens. All are high in folic acid which can help counter depression and fatigue.
  • Omega-Rich: foods like salmon, sardines, flax seed and walnuts are high in omega-3s which help in the production of neurotransmitters.
  • Priobiotics: friendly bacteria, similar to the ones that occur naturally in our digestive tracts, are found in foods with active cultures, like yogurt, kefir, tempeh and pickled vegetables. They can help reduce anxiety and stress.

What to Avoid

  • Simple Carbohydrates: think cereal, crackers, bagels and white bread. The glucose in them spike your blood sugar and create fatigue.
  • Processed: Food items that are ready-made, like meals in the frozen food aisle, deli meat or fast-food, can contain more artificial ingredients, nitrates, sodium  and trans and saturated fats.
  • Sugary Foods & Drinks: soda, candy, coffee drinks and sweets. They may make you feel a mood boost, but a big crash follows which can make you feel low, tired and empty.
  • Fried: most fried food is high in saturated fat which is difficult for your body to digest and can weaken the good bacteria.

The best part of healthy eating is the well-spring of benefits… better mood, improved heart health, lower risk of diabetes, decrease in blood pressure and better sleep. The hard part of eating well is breaking the habits of mind. Most of us turn to food when we are feeling a certain way or want to feel a certain way. Reaching past the tempting foods for the healthy ones takes willpower and commitment. But when we do choose healthy foods, we can feel a whole lot better in our bodies and brains.